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Old 18-01-2008, 03:25 PM posted to
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Default Have You Considered Raccoon...???,1,

Raccoon meat delights the down-home faithful, amuses the haute curious

Illinois, it turns out, has bountiful supply of the critters -- and fans and
foodies are gobbling them up

By Megan Twohey


January 18, 2008

"John Wilson stepped into the massive refrigerator at his home in northwest
Illinois and removed a long plastic bag. Although clouded with ice, there
was no hiding its gray and pink contents -- the paws, the limbs, the head.

"This is one of the jumbos," Wilson said, holding the bag up for inspection.
"We leave the paws on so people know they're getting a raccoon, not
somebody's house cat."

The raccoon hunting and trapping seasons are nearing their close in
Illinois. And though it may surprise many who dine on deep dish and Polish
sausage, the bandit-masked critter is turning up in kitchens across the

A largely word-of-mouth raccoon meat market stretches from southern Illinois
to Chicago's suburbs, spilling into Wisconsin and Missouri, according to
hunters, trappers and self-proclaimed "coon-eaters."

With special permits from the state Department of Natural Resources, hunters
and trappers sell their catches, often for about $5 a skinned carcass, which
can weigh in at a healthy 15 pounds.

Customers turn their purchases into barbecue, stews and other dishes,
updating a tradition that began with Native Americans and was adopted by

Over the last 10 weeks, Wilson, 59, figures he has sold about 2,500 raccoon
carcasses to more than 50 customers. Irv Schirmer, a trapper in Marengo, has
sold 300, catering to appetites in Chicago, Rockford, Joliet and Zion.

They say many of their customers grew up in the South, where raccoon hunting
and cooking has a storied past. But that isn't the only demographic hungry
for the meat. Hunters and trappers in southern Illinois love to eat the
critters. And some foodies from the Chicago area dabble in raccoon dishes.

Minced raccoon even emerged from the kitchen of Moto, a cutting edge Chicago
restaurant, where chef Homaro Cantu prepared it to look like roadkill, with
a yellow stripe across the plate.

"You have to overcome certain inhibitions," said Catherine Lambrecht, 48, of
Highland Park, who brought the meat to Moto after purchasing it in
Wisconsin. "But when it's prepared right, raccoon is really good."

And they're really plentiful in Illinois, which has one of the most abundant
raccoon populations in the country, according to the Illinois Department of
Natural Resources. The agency estimates 2.5 million roam the state, with the
highest concentrations in Cook, Kane and McHenry Counties.

The bushy-tailed creatures with black pockets around their eyes make their
homes in patches of woods near farmland and in residential neighborhoods.
Without hunting and trapping, their population would explode. More bird and
turtle nests would fall prey to raccoons, while the potential for spreading
disease would grow, said Bob Bluett, a state raccoon biologist.

But a spokeswoman from the Humane Society of the U.S. questioned the
ecological argument, while other activists oppose all hunting.

Nearly 15,000 Illinois residents have hunted raccoon since the season
started in November, often using dogs to locate their prey on private farms
and government-owned land. About 3,700 have trapped them, killing those that
survive the trap.

"I shoot them in the head with a .22 rifle," said Wilson, a towering trapper
with a gray beard, as he ran a 2-foot-long knife along a freshly skinned
raccoon pelt.

Thurman Bentley and Andy Breadhorse of Carlyle are among the hunters and
trappers who enjoy the feast.

Breadhorse, 35, browns cubes of meat in a skillet before cooking them in a
pot with barley and vegetables. Bentley, 79, prefers to barbecue them. The
sweet, dark meat always brings a smile to his face, he says, especially with
cold beer.

"I'll eat a carcass when I want one," Bentley said. "The way I do it is just
as good as any barbecue you've ever eaten."

State law allows raccoon hunters and trappers to eat what they catch and
share it with friends and family. Those who sell for human consumption need
a Wild Game Food Dealers Permit from the Department of Natural Resources.

Wilson, one of 43 people to receive a permit last year, sells the carcasses
out of his home, about 30 miles west of Rockford. He skins and guts the
raccoons on a metal contraption that hangs from his garage ceiling then
stores them in the large outdoor freezer. A jumbo costs $5, an extra large
$4, and a large $3.

"We get a rush just before Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and the Super
Bowl," Wilson said.

Most of his customers are from his hometown of Freeport, but others come
from Chicago, East St. Louis and other cities. They pack their trunks with
hundreds of carcasses, which are distributed to other coon eaters back home,
Wilson said.

Rogie Williams, 82, is one of Wilson's most loyal customers. He lives in
Kankakee but grew up in Arkansas, where eating raccoon was a common
occurrence. His taste for it survived the move north.

"I've eaten it for more than 60 years," said Williams, who bought 15
carcasses last week. "Why stop now?"

Lambrecht was unaware that Illinois hunters and trappers sell raccoon. So
when she and other members of an online community of foodies in the Chicago
area got an itch to try the meat several years ago, she brought some back
from the annual "coon festival" in Delafield, Wis .Lambrecht planned to
distribute the meat to friends during one of the group's excursions to Moto,
which took place weeks after the festival. But when Cantu heard there was
raccoon in his restaurant, he insisted on taking it into the kitchen -- he
had never cooked raccoon before. An hour later, he emerged with his

"It was a real eye catcher," Cantu said. "The fact that the dish looked like
it was run over was really cool."


Copyright 2008, Chicago Tribune

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Old 18-01-2008, 03:27 PM posted to
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Default Have You Considered Raccoon...???

On Fri, 18 Jan 2008 08:25:41 -0600, "Gregory Morrow"

"This is one of the jumbos," Wilson said, holding the bag up for inspection.
"We leave the paws on so people know they're getting a raccoon, not
somebody's house cat."



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